The Status of Communicative English Language

How communicative English language gives us to benefit? Image source:
How communicative English language gives us to benefit? Image source:
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

After the introduction of the Communicative English language at the secondary and Higher Secondary levels how much change in teaching and learning English has taken place remains a question to the conscious citizens of the country. Have our students who have passed the SSC or HSC examinations developed their four skills necessary for communication? Of course, time is not ripe enough to ask these questions but we should see whether the path is leading in the right direction.  However, several training programmes have been taken up by ELTIP (English Language Teaching Improvement Project), BRAC and UKBET (the United Kingdom and  Bangladesh Education  Trust) to prepare our secondary school teachers to deal with the English For Today and to develop their teaching abilities. The materials produced on the basis of the techniques of EFT. Again, a question arises how far the training materials address the practical issues.

English For Today has been produced on the basis of four skills namely speaking.  reading, listening and writing. We are making our teachers acquainted with the four skills and the ways how to deal with the different lessons and units of EFT in the real classroom scenario. Teachers are made acquainted with different techniques of teaching like pair work, group work, chain drill, choral drill, elicitation etc. to deal with the text and four skills and the trained teachers have already developed some skills to deal with the things.  We are not sure whether they are implementing the techniques in the class fully or partially but we have at least sensitized them. Removing the shyness of the students as well as of the teachers through training has at least been partially successful as our trained teachers speak or try to speak English in the class. I observed the situation in the teacher’s forum and visiting different schools.

All the training modules give the teachers ideas about test items like making sentences from substitution tables, rearranging sentences, information transfer, answering questions in a paragraph etc. but are not teaching them how to deal with these items in the class which will give them particularly the rural students some direct and practical benefit.

When the skill and proficiency of the students can be reached up to a satisfactory level they need not bother about the testing items, they remain ready to face any kind of challenge of the examination. I mean when the students reach a satisfactory confident level, they can develop the ability and skills to use English for their practical purpose and then the importance and thinking of passing exams become secondary importance to them.

The system developed over the ages in our country is an exam and result oriented which we cannot avoid. We don’t want to encourage our students just to follow the guide books to make good results avoiding the original spirit of the communicative English language. Neither can we ignore the burning desire of the students and schools to make good results in all the public exams. In order to address these issues, we must devise our training module which will reflect the communicative English language as well as the present examination system.

If we avoid totally exam and question based training teachers will not feel encouraged fully to implement the training. Hundreds of comprehensions, cloze test with clues and without clues and creative items must be exercised by the students before sending them to the public exams. This practice makes the students acquainted with many vocabularies, develop their ability of understanding comprehension and writing English of their own. Almost all the students both in urban and rural areas do this practice to prepare students to face the challenges of the public exams.

English For Today does not contain enough test items like information transfer, making sentences from substitution tables, cloze test with clues and without clues whereas students need a lot of practice on these items directly. What the ELTIP says that first students are to develop their skill and then they will be able to face any kind of challenge of the exam. Actually, examination means that. But we are to consider the weakness of the students.

Weak students can at least derive benefit by doing the practices of test items directly if they continue the practice. This will give them opportunities to develop their vocabularies, grammar-based ideas and sentence making capacities. We tend to encourage both our students and teachers to remain limited to the EFT putting the arguments that it contains everything .necessary for facing any test. ELTIP experts discourage students and teachers to bother about a second paper, they say EFT is enough to cover both papers when it is properly taught and followed. This statement goes against the actual situation.

How to answer different test items must be included in any training module. How to write the answers of cloze test and rearrangement, information transfer is still vague to the rural and even some urban teachers. Teachers hold different opinions in these matters and students become the victims of their whims. Through the training module, we need to establish a national standard so that the teachers can examine the exam scripts smoothly and without any confusion.

What to do to reflect the spirit of communicative English language

Question pattern must not be the same every year. Communicative English language says to develop the  four skills of the students following the exercises given in the EFT. Testing the speaking skill of the students IS virtually not be possible in the present situation. One practical examination on speaking English can be introduced but  it will suffer from nepotism. Teachers already expose their biasness towards the students who read with them privately. So evaluating student’s speaking ability  by the teachers will not  show the perfect evaluation.

For creative items, different pictures may be given and students will write something of their own seeing the pictures. This item will be absolutely creative. What is happening now, different possible items are given in the guide books available in the market. Students memorize those possible items like the traditional system. Teachers are also teaching in this way.

Grammar and vocabulary test should be done in various ways. Why with clues and without clues only. This test keeps a lot of scopes for the weaker students to follow several words from their fellow classmates and easily obtain marks that they don’t deserve. Rather they are not learning anything. It has another problem that students always try to have quick benefit. They don’t try to exercise these test. They think only two cloze tests will be in the exam so why should we exercise more. We can easily collect this thing from our fellow students. So, vocabulary and grammar test should be in such a way as students must engage themselves and find out the answers of their own utilizing their talent.

Students of urban and rural areas differ far in respect of their merit and talent. In spite of existing this fact two separate kinds of questions cannot be prepared as a result the general standard fails to justify the standard of brilliant students. The question of the public exam is very easy for the students of Dhaka city and cadet college students. Whereas the same question brings fever for the students of rural areas. In this situation, we must prepare questions in such a way as 40 % marks can be obtained by students. To obtain more than 40% marks can only be the prerogative for the originally better and meritorious students.

Bright students must be given the opportunity to learn more and more. They must not be confined to a particular thing that doesn’t engage them and utilize their talent. At present actually, that is happening. Still, many teachers are giving suggestion to the students on essay, paragraph and letters and even comprehensions and it is interesting enough that the questions fully reflect the suggestions just like the traditional system and the teachers concerned acquire reputation and are considered famous teachers. So where and how communicative English language gives us to benefit and what’s the difference between traditional and communicative English language?

Now the time has come to review the whole situation and reach the conclusion whether we should teach our students English in a present way or devise a pragmatic policy.

Again it is said that the trained teachers will create interest in the English class and students will get interested to learn English. But the practical situation proves otherwise. When all the teachers will be trained and when we can expect to have all the English teachers hailing from English background?

If many interesting stories are introduced students will get interested to learn English. As we cannot train all the teachers within a particular time so it is reasonable to introduce some interesting storybooks written by original English writers along with the present EFT. Only EFT cannot give all the directions to learn a language

Common techniques and objectives of Communicative English language can be transmitted to the teachers through Distant Learning and the Radio and TV can be used for this purpose. Ministry of Education may take initiative in this regard otherwise the issue of teaching communicative English language is getting complicated. Still, many teachers are of different opinions and examine the scripts in different ways penalizing the students.

What happens in English Medium Schools? They don’t prescribe only one book, rather they prescribe several helping books with interesting pictures and stories which students read with much interest and pick up the language spontaneously and form a reasonable footing of English and develop the necessary skills for maintaining communication. But in Bengali Medium Schools we have given an English For Today and telling them that it is containing everything necessary for developing all the four skills of the students. If it is so, the English Medium Schools would not have introduced more books to develop the necessary skills of the students. Of course, sometimes English Medium students also seem to be overburdened even then they have the opportunity to form a good English background.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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